CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An official with the West Virginia Municipal League predicts West Virginia will be much better off once the Home Rule Pilot Project becomes a permanent program later this year.
Governor Jim Justice has signed into law SB 4 out of the 2019 Regular Legislative Session which establishes the Municipal Home Rule Program.
Since its launch in 2007, the previous pilot program has been expanded multiple times.
Currently, 34 of West Virginia’s 231 cities operate under home rule.
“Every city in West Virginia could eventually be under home rule,” said Travis Blosser, deputy executive director for the West Virginia Municipal League, of the potential for expansion with the new law.
His organization was celebrating the coming law change.
Overall, Blosser said home rule lets local leaders respond more efficiently to the needs of their local communities.
“Ultimately this is not an empowerment of local government, but an empowerment of the local constituency that lives in that city,” Blosser told MetroNews.
Under home rule, participating cities can implement changes in many matters of local governance as long as the changes do not violate the U.S. Constitution, the West Virginia Constitution and federal law.
In the law, there are some restrictions on how much control home rule gives cities in specifically defined areas that include federal highways funding, gun facilities and fire marshal certifications among others.
The legislation limits home rule additions for Class IV cities, the smallest in West Virginia, to four per year.
Cities of all sizes fall under oversight from members of the Home Rule Board with required annual assessments which will continue.
“They have the ability to reject amendments to current plans or they have the ability to reject plans that are new plans for new communities,” Blosser said.
Blosser used Huntington, one of the first home rule pilot cities, as an example of the development potential under home rule.
“Huntington looks much different than it did 12 years ago,” Blosser said. “That, in large part, has to do with home rule and the flexibility that Huntington has been granted to make some decisions locally.
The new home rule law takes effect on June 7th.
Without action, the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program would have ended on July 1, 2019.